Romeo Frezzi was an Italian socialist carpenter native of Jesi (province of Ancona) beaten to death by the police when he was thirty, on May 2nd, 1897 in the jail of Rome at San Michele a Ripa, while he was interrogated for the attack of the anarchist Pietro Acciarito to the king of Italy Umberto I.
Romeo was born on August 17th, 1867 in Jesi, to Giovanni and Palmira Felcina, and in October 1891 he moved to Rome, where he took up his residence. On October 16th, 1892 in the municipal offices of the Capitol he married Assunta Franchi, ten years older than him, from Matelica, in the province of Macerata. The marriage was celebrated by professor Orazio Marucchi, city councilor for Catholics and world famous archaeologist. Romeo and Assunta had met in Jesi when he had gone to polish furniture at the home of a lawyer for which she worked as a maid. According to some sources, the couple had two children, but it doesnt appear from the population registers, and no children are mentioned in the stories related to the Frezzi case.
In the capital Romeo began working in the carpenter's shop of Oreste Palmieri in 17, via della Chiesa Nuova, and went to live with Assunta in 29A, via Margutta (no 19 according to the death certificate, no 59 according to a police statement). In an interview with the socialist newspaper "Avanti!" of May 5th, 1897 ("Un delitto della polizia" i.e. "A crime of the police") Oreste Palmieri told: "his conduct was, in all respects, excellent. He was devoted to work and had very honest customs, he went early at home and didnt hang out with bad companies. He never expressed bloodthirsty intentions. In the morning he reached the workshop absolutely on time, and never lost any working day due to negligence". Romeo had won the first prize in the carnival competition for a Greek-style loggia that he had built for Countess Ubaldelli. Avanti! of May 4th, describes him as "a lean young man with dark curly hair, with lively eyes of a swift and intelligent worker".
The police filed Frezzi as a "dangerous anarchist", although he was in fact a socialist, after being a republican in the past. The police and the bourgeois press were highly confused between the various ideas opposite to the system and to the monarchy, and they often classified under the definition of "anarchists" the subversives of any tendency. This label was also used in an instrumental way, because the arrest of an anarchist caused less alarm in public opinion than the imprisonment of a republican or a socialist (Coletti).
From a note published by Avanti! of May 5th, 1897 it comes out that Frezzi "in his early youth had belonged to the republican circles of Lazio, then when the section of the Socialist party in Rome was founded, he had entered resolutely into our party, embracing the new faith with all the impetus of his sincere generous soul. Therefore the lie of the police headquarters that names him a dangerous anarchist". looks even more cheeky". On the contrary, the "Giuseppe Garibaldi" Society communicated to the socialist newspaper that Frezzi had been a member of it since the foundation and was a member of the Italian Republican Party.
Romeo however attended, although not regularly, the meetings of the Socialists in the section of via del Pantheon, 57, as evidenced by the notes that the City Guards sent to the police headquarters, specifying the opening and closing times and the participants in the meetings. Vittorio Lollini, the future solicitor of the widow of Romeo, and the two satirists of Avanti!, Guido Podrecca, author of the texts and cartoonist Gabriele Galantara also attended the meetings at the Socialist section (AdS).
After his death, Eolo Varagnoli on "L'Avvenire sociale" of May 9th, 1897 ("Orrendo assassinio!..." i.e. "Horrible murder") so remembered him: "He was a proud rebel. And this explains why he belonged to the Republican party, to the Socialist party, and why was he always involved in the stings against anarchists".
In October 1895 he was sentenced to eight days in prison for a "seditious demonstration" against Prime Minister Francesco Crispi, who spoke at the Argentina theatre, on the occasion of the banquet given on the eve of the May 1893 election.
Shortly after 2.30pm on Thursday April 22nd, 1897 Pietro Acciarito, an anarchist locksmith from Artena (province of Rome), tried to kill king Umberto I with a dagger he had built himself, on the Via Appia road, at Ponte Lungo (the place is described as "opposite vicolo del Mandrione" or "between vicolo della Morana and cascinale dei Voltoni"), while he was heading on an open Victoria carriage to Capannelle racecourse in Rome, to attend Royal Derby. The occasion of the king's attendance in the Derby was the celebration of his 29th wedding anniversary with Queen Margherita. The attack was unsuccessful because the coachman Arcangelo Serpe managed to steer the carriage, hitting the assailant with a mudguard and making the stab miss its target, tearing instead the carriage's folded bellows top (G.A.R.). To cavalier Leopoldo Galeazzi, inspector general of public security, who inveighed against him for having attacked the king, Acciarito replied: "We got nothing more to eat. Something had to be done!" (Felisatti), and during the trial he said he was particularly indignant for the fact that the king had offered a 24 thousand liras prize to the winning horse, while many Italians, including Acciarito, were in serious financial straits (Centini).
In order to give a measure of the amount given as a prize to the horse, it must consider that at the time of Acciarito's attack, the yearly average wage of a worker was 680 liras, the wage of a peasant was 150 liras plus a little surface of wheat and one of fava beans, while women's wages where around 200 liras (G.A.R.).
Already in the past Umberto had been the target of attacks: the one who went closer to succeed was that of November 17th, 1878 in Naples, by Giovanni Passannante, from Salvia di Lucania. After three years from the attack on via Appia, however, Umberto I was killed in Monza by the anarchist Gaetano Bresci (see my webpage on him).
After the Acciarito attack, the investigators needed to find his accomplices to prove the existence of a conspiracy, even to redeem the serious flaw in surveillance that had allowed the assaillant to approach the king with a weapon. As a result, numerous anarchists, socialists and republicans were held and interrogated by the police, mainly in Esquilino quarter, where in via Machiavelli the assaillant lived. Many of the arrests were illegal, because they were not authorized by a magistrate. The detainees were locked up in the former convent of San Michele a Ripa, turned at the time into a kind of depot of the police headquarters, garrisoned by sub-sergeant Domenico Mellace and by six guards, Romolo Omut, Antonio Mazzaglia, Giovanni Campana, Domenico DAvanzo, Filippo Sinopoli and Bonfiglioli.
Six days after the attack, Wednesday, April 28th, the police went to the former home of Romeo Frezzi, where the landlady, Ms De Bianco, gave them the new address. The following day, Thursday, April 29th, at noon, police delegate (commissioner) Palmieri and two guards went to Frezzi's house in via Margutta, where they found his wife, while Romeo was at work in the shop. The delegate asked Assunta to go with them to the shop, where she entered first and worriedly hugged her husband, who reassured her, since he had committed no crime. When they returned together to Via Margutta, the search was carried out in the presence of the Frezzis and pamphlets and a group photo of eight socialists were found, which were seized with the notice: "This evening you can come and take them back to the police headquarters".
From the police headquarters, however, Romeo Frezzi never returned, but he had to undergo for three days a harsh interrogation by Inspector Luigi Vescovi. On Saturday May 1st delegate Alcide Luciani, together with inspector Vescovi, went specifically to question him from the police station, then hosted by the convent of the Servites in San Marcello al Corso, to the prison of San Michele a Ripa, where Frezzi had been transferred in the meantime.
picture of the eight socialists
The photo seized from Romeo Frezzi, taken a year and a half earlier by the photographer Fiorani of Piazza Guglielmo Pepe, represented a group of eight socialists, one of whom was holding a large portrait of Nicola Barbato, the socialist leader from Piana degli Albanesi (province of Palermo) who had been one of the leaders of the Sicilian Fasci riot of 1894, and which in early 1897 was in Crete to fight alongside the Greeks for independence from Ottoman Empire.
The persons portrayed in the picture were socialists from Mercato Saraceno (province of Forlì, in Romagna), some of which were resident in Rome: Tarciso Zappi, Giuliano Pierantoni, Giovanni Pieraccioni, Angelo Moroni, Secondo Orsini and Pellegrino Zani, and also appeared Cherubino Trenta, also from Romagna. and Pietro Acciarito, partially hidden, which at the time of shooting had joined the group by chance. In the large format picture, the group was standing by a wall on which the writing "Viva il Socialismo" (Long live Socialism) appeared. Frezzi explained that he bought the photo being an admirer of Barbato, while he didn't know Acciarito, nor the other people portrayed (Fasanella et al.). The managing director and editor of Avanti! Cherubino Trenta had the photo and offered it to the newspaper, which refused it; then he offered it to other newspapers, because it portrayed, among others, Pietro Acciarito (Felisatti). The presence in the photo of the attacker made the image become a fundamental tool for the investigators, to try to prove the existence of a conspiracy, since any other useful clue for this purpose were missing.
Sunday May 2nd, probably around 3 pm, Romeo Frezzi died at San Michele, and the red herring machine immediately started up, as in many other cases in the following decades. The death was attributed to suicide with this note from the infamous "black book" of the police, taken from Avanti! of May 4th: "Today, at 5pm, a certain Frezzi Romeo, 29-year-old, carpenter, anarchist, held for public security measures committed suicide, beating his head against the wall" and later: "subsequently Frezzi's body was visited by Dr. Malpieri and not having found any apparent injury he believes that Frezzi himself died of aneurysm. The judicial authority was informed".
According to Avanti! Dr. Malpieri, expert of the police headquarters, spoke about the causes of death without having done any special examination, and having seen the body when it was already dark. The guards would have told him that until a few minutes before the prisoner was walking quietly and then suddenly he fell to the ground, then the doctor would have said: "probably it was an aneurysm", putting an end to the examination.
The delegate Pasquale Minetti, sent to warn the family, did not find his wife but a cousin to whom he said that Romeo had "strangled on his own, compressing his throat with his hands and banging his head on the wall".
The version of the blows to the wall was actually denied by the fact that, apart from a wound under the chin and a swollen eye, Romeo's head had no other signs of wounds or bruises.
The next version of the police was that of a suicide plunging to his death from a gallery on the second floor. According to the official version, reported by the Rome's newspaper "Il Messaggero", at 5:00 pm on May 2nd, Frezzi would have been allowed to get a little fresh air on a gallery five or six meters high, facing out on a hall once used as a church, from which he would have plunged himself down, in the few seconds the guard Omut entered the barracks to fill up his pipe. This story of suicide in a moment of omitted vigilance recalls the alleged suicide of Gaetano Bresci, with the variant of the self-strangling, in the first version, later replaced by that of Frezzi plunging to his death.
Actually two anarchists, the student Ulderico Cerquetti and the baker Luigi Damiani, who were detained together with many others for precautionary reasons before Labour day of May 1st and released on the morning of the 2nd, reported that Frezzi's cell was on the ground floor, initially it was number 5, very narrow and with plank-bed, and and later no 19, equipped with cot. Later the police confirmed the location of the cell on the ground floor, but claimed that Romeo had climbed up a fence to the second floor in order to be able to plunge himself down, a version hard to believe since the prisoner had not had the prison mess, suffering of stomach problems, and was therefore so weakened that he wasn't able to lift the trestles that held his cot (Felisatti).
The scanty credibility of the assumption of Frezzi plunging to his death from the gallery was also strengthened by various other indications: the bloodstains on his cot, the injuries to his chin and the shut, a swollen and black left eye, for an ecchymosis produced in appearance by a violent blow, ripped and crumpled clothes and a broken shoe, in contrast to the decency usually shown by the socialist carpenter, the right sleeve of the shirt completely stained in red, perhaps due to a stream of blood coming out of the mouth, the handkerchief torn and pierced with his teeth, as if it had been used as a gag, and finally the awkward cover attempt put into effect by delegate Filippo Forcheim, who had called the police headquarters doctor to assist a sick person, and when the health officer arrived he announced him "the patient died".
All these clues led to think that Frezzi's death was due to a severe beating, which the culprits tried later to cover with various subsequent versions, all in contrast with the facts ascertained by the investigation.
Even about the hour of death there were different versions: the one initially indicated, 5pm, was later corrected by Minister Costa, who claimed that the "fact" had occurred around three or four in the afternoon; according to the newspaper Il Messaggero of May 4th, 1897 delegate Forcheim had been informed by a phone call at 4.30 pm, while the magistrate of the 5th district had been informed at 10.00 pm, after which he had authorized the transfer of the corpse and postponed his visit at ten o'clock of the day after (Felisatti).
"Avanti!" questioned the official versions of Romeo Frezzi's death from the earliest days, reporting news on the autopsy. The May 4th issue stressed that: "Frezzi's death was the consequence of an arrest carried out arbitrarily by the police headquarters, without a mandate from the judicial authority, and of a likewise arbitrary detention". Furthermore, the socialist newspaper reported that: "some friends of Frezzi, arrested on the occasion of May 1st and set at liberty yesterday, state that from the words they heard from him neither the slightest intention of committing suicide appeared". In addition to this Frezzi had charged one of his friends who were about to be released from prison to ask his wife to send him some underwear.
Eolo Varagnoli on "L'Avvenire sociale" wrote: "I was several times a fellow prisoner of poor Frezzi, who repeatedly showed me his innate repulsion for suicide". Oreste Palmieri, employer of Frezzi, interviewed by Avanti! on May 5th, 1897, said: "he never expressed suicidal ideas. I definitely refuse to believe it. He was very attached to his family".
In an adjacent cell some women had heard a man shout: Oh God! Help! Oh God! They kill me. One of them, Antonietta Molinari, detained as a prostitute, on Avanti! of May 17th had declared that she had told everything to the judges, but she had been threatened to send her back to her village, Castro de Volsci, in the province name Terra di Lavoro, or Caserta, currently in the province of Frosinone.
After the five-meter plunge, the corpse would have remained on the ground until 10am the following morning. In the late morning of May 4th, at San Bartolomeo all'Isola mortuary, in the presence of the investigating magistrate Francesco Bocelli, an autopsy was carried out in the utmost secrecy by the Court experts De Pedys and Giorgio Pardo. The autopsy revealed twenty-seven fractures of skull, vertebral column with complete separation from the ribs, right shoulder, ribs and spleen and pericardium injuries. De Pedys concluded that the injuries were compatible with a fall from a height, but Pardo, who totally disagreed, refused to sign the expertise.
De Pedys, trusted doctor of the Minister of Justice Giacomo Giuseppe Costa, after a first visit to the corpse had told a friend: If I had found Frezzi's corpse elsewhere I would have explained his death in one and only way: a well loaded wagon of the Gondrand brothers removal company had ran over him (Coletti).
Judge Bocelli then apponted the task to carry out a new expertise to three other doctors, senator Francesco Durante, professor Marchiafava and doctor Angiolo Filippi, professor of forensic medicine in Florence. On June 19th the supervising experts issued their expertise, according to which the injuries were compatible with a fall from a height, which however had followed a violent beating suffered by Frezzi, evidenced by distinctive injuries. The death was caused by fatal wounds in the visceral cavity, with strong hemorrhage (with loss of three liters of blood) along with concussion and asphyxia due to the lungs compression caused by blood. Il Messaggero of May 15th wrote that suicide was ruled out and death was caused by assaults and beatings shrewdly inflicted, the fracture of the skull was caused by blows given with a flat object, the injuries to the liver and spleen were due to beatings, therefore: the fall is certainly an unsatisfactory explanation. The break of the thoracic vertebrae was not compatible with the fall, because in this case Frezzis cervical vertebrae would have had to break, unless he had fallen on his back, but the guards reported that Frezzi was face down. The conclusion was that Romeo had been the victim of a beating with sandbags and heels of shoes.
After the postmortem examination, the medical examiner tried to verify the hypothesis of death after plunging down, and in particular the compatibility of Romeo's injuries with the fall from a height. A trial was then carried out by dropping four corpses from the gallery of the police headquarters, taken in the hospices and brought to the police headquarters with the wagon for the public funerals for the needy. Two of the bodies were thrown violently, and two were only dropped. In all four bodies, medical examiners found fractures, but the internal organs were intact, unlike what was found on Frezzi's body (Fasanella et al.).
A barrel of water was also thrown from the San Michele gallery and it was found that from the barracks of the guards it was impossible not to hear the thud of the body, thus contradicting Omuts version, which claimed he had heard no noise. On March 3rd, 1898, another trial was performed with a corpse thrown from a height, and later some more trial with a corpse from Santo Spirito hospital were made. The experts concluded that suicide could not be excluded. even if there were no lesions to organs (Felisatti).
The circumstances of Frezzi's death resemble those of the anarchic railwayman Giuseppe Pinelli, thrown from a window of Milan central police station on December 16th, 1969, a hundred years and a month after Gaetano Bresci's birth, and never forgotten.
On May 5th, 1897 in the Chamber of Deputies Minister Costa responded to the parliamentary question of Socialist members of parliament Andrea Costa, Filippo Turati, and others: "On April 28th, both to perform judicial police investigations concerning the attack committed against Her Majesty on the 22nd, both to take precautionary measures in view of the upcoming May 1st, a domicile search was carried out by certain Romeo Frezzi, which the public security authority considered socialist and anarchist. In this search was found that Frezzi belonged a photograph representing a group gathered around a well-known socialist, and in this group there was, among others, also Acciarito. It was natural that the authority, due to the grave responsibility that hanged over them, should investigate what relationships could exist between Acciarito and Frezzi, and should identify all the others in the group, but since these investigations could not be effectively made leaving Frezzi free, so, as a precautionary measure they found it necessary to take him into the depot jail. ( ) Thus May 2nd came, when, unfortunately, Frezzi was found dead in a room of San Michele prison, where he had been imprisoned ( ) an expertise was carried out, from which it turned out ( ) that on Frezzi's body a large number of skull fractures were found, twenty-six if I'm not wrong, and at the same time ribs fractures with detachment of the vertebral column, break of a scapula, ruptured liver and spleen. A real disaster ( ) the possibility that Frezzi had, from the high of a gallery, plunged on the floor of the hall where he was found is proven admissible" (from Tarantini in: Parliamentary Acts, Chamber of Deputies, Legislature XX, 1st session, Discussion, Sitting of May 5th, 1897, pag. 349-350).
The Socialist member of parliament Oddino Morgari observed that the police had given three subsequent versions of Frezzi's death the first that he took his life banging his head on the wall; the second opposite to the first that he died of natural death the third opposite to both previous ones that he plunged from the gallery of the first floor ... (from Tarantini in: Parliamentary Acts, Chamber of Deputies, Legislature XX, 1st session, Discussion, Sitting of May 5th, 1897, pag. 350-351).
The Minister's surprising reply was that: until we have proof of the contrary it must be assumed that Frezzi committed suicide; and if the police headquarters has given more than one version of the case, they did it for honesty: I could observe that the very fact of the double version of the deed is to show how things were not well known, whence full good faith in exposing both the one and the other version ... (from Tarantini in: Parliamentary Acts, Chamber of Deputies, Legislature XX, 1st session, Discussion, Sitting of May 5th, 1897, pag. 350-351).
In the Senate an interpellation of May 18th, signed by senators of four different sides of the political line-up, Cesare Parenzo, Corrado Tommasi-Crudeli, Francesco Vitelleschi Nobili and Stanislao Cannizzaro questioned the ministers of Interior and Justice about what measures they intended to take to ensure respect from the police of article 36 of the Albertine Statute which forbade arbitrary arrests and article 68 of the code of criminal procedure which required the immediate transfer of the arrested persons before the Court.
On March 2nd, 1898 there was a question by member of parliament Felice Santini on the delays in the preliminary investigation, and another by members of parliament Andrea Costa, Enrico Ferri and Filippo Turati. In response, undersecretary Cesare Fani declared that the delays were due to the slowness of the experts and of the supervising experts in examining the respective expertises. This appears as an evidence of clear dilatory maneuvers by investigators (Felisatti).
The socialist newspaper Avanti! took a position on Frezzi's affair since May 4th, 1897, two days after the assassination, vigorously denying the thesis of suicide, clearly highlighting the contradictions in the different versions of the police headquarters, and playing a decisive role in pushing the judicial organs to act according to justice.
On May 5th, 1897 Avanti! wrote: "Personal wholeness is at the discretion of any rascal dressed as a cop. A man's life is worth nothing", while on May 13th, in response to criticism or threats from the newspaper L'Opinione liberale, close to head of the government Marquis of Rudinì, replied in an unequivocal way: "we don't give a damn for rash denials, we confirm, one by one, our accusations. Frezzi, we say, was murdered. The murderers belong to Rome police headquarters. And no ... opinion of a minister or of a cop is of use to wipe out the truth. A truth that didn't came out from our imagination, but from the contradicting minutes of the same police headquarters, from the expertise ordered by the Court and from our evidences. The ... suicide of Frezzi was a fierce and crazy murder. Murder, you got it? You cursed coward murderers!" (Avanti!, May 13th, 1897, pag. 1).
Several times Avanti! quoted an anonymous letter, signed "a cop", delivered to the general manager of public security, commendator Giovanni Alfazio, in which it was explained, with many details, that Frezzi had been killed for revenge by two former prison guards, passed to the police, quoted with name, surname and matriculation number. The two would have been infiltrated into Frezzi's cell to induce him to talk, pretending to be prisoners, but the socialist would have recognized one of the two as a guard he had met on the occasion of the detention of two years before for the protests against Crispi, and to which he had caused a disciplinary sanction. Frezzi would have reacted harshly to the trap and the two would have beaten him to death, then throwing the corpse from the gallery on the upper floor to simulate suicide.
On May 14th Giovanni Frezzi, Romeo's father, wrote the editor of the socialist newspaper to thank all those who had been solid for them "against the cops, cause of tears for an entire family".
In the following months Avanti! used the surname of one of the torturers, Omut, as a synonym for brutal and violent cop, to describe other acts of violence against prisoners. Furthermore, for several days the socialist newspaper insisted on asking the guards who knew how Frezzi had died to talk and wrote several times that delegate Filippo Forcheim knew everything. In addition to Avanti! other newspapers, such as Il Messaggero, were also courageous enough to doubt the thesis of suicide and to highlight the responsibilities of the police headquarters.
Romeo's wife in the whole story of her husband's murder maintained an inflexible attitude, demanding with great firmness and dignity to have justice, despite the intimidation of the police. She herself said: "As soon as I heard the news of the bad event I went to the police headquarters where I was received by inspector Vescovi, who, confirming the news, tried with some insistence to lead me to believe that my husband died committing suicide. - No, it is not possible, I said: my husband was killed, so my heart tells me. The inspector then told me: No, don't say that because otherwise you could lose a piece of bread forever. In that moment I was upset, so I didn't pay attention to this sentence, but later, thinking back on it, I had the idea that the inspector had, with those words, threatened to have me arrested if I insisted too much in my version". Assunta Frezzi immediately filed a complaint for her husband's murder, which prompted investigating judge Bocelli to order an autopsy. Assunta also became a plaintiff in the trial, assisted by the Socialist lawyers Vittorio Lollini and Mazza and attorney-at-law Falessi, but for this reason some jobs were denied to her.
On May 9th, the celebration on Frezzi's tomb in the Roman cemetery of Campo Verano, became the occasion for a great demonstration against the monarchy. At the cemetery the Carabinieri police charged socialists and anarchists, who were beaten and prevented from delivering a speech and laying the seven wreaths they had brought, those of the anticlerical Club of Ponte quarter, of the Carpenters Cooperative, two of the anarchists and three of the republicans, who were instead seized. The wreaths left to the demonstrators were taken to the monument to Garibaldi at Gianicolo hill. Romeo Frezzi had been buried on 7th or 8th May in section 12 of the old sector (XIX), but on April 15th, 1907 his burial was moved, inside the same cemetery, in the sector "Scogliera nuova del Pincetto" in the section named "Altopiano" ("Plateau"), viale dei Platani, burial niche 22, 3rd row. At the foot of the tombstone a scroll is placed , coming from the old burial , which bears these words: "A Romeo Frezzi. Morto il 2 maggio 1897 nel carcere di S. Michele i socialisti anarchici del Lazio nel febbraio 1905 QMP" ("To Romeo Frezzi. Died on May 2nd, 1897 in San Michele jail the socialists anarchicists of Latium in February 1905 QMP"; QMP means "Questa Memoria Posero" i.e. "This Memory Laid" ).
The deputation of the Roman university students, meeting for three days in the hall of the Brunetti circle, at Vicolo dei Soldati, voted a severe agenda and decided to participate in the demonstration on May 9th announced by the Republican Association of Lazio on the occasion of Frezzi's funeral. As a sign of mourning for the murder, the "Giuseppe Garibaldi" Association invited its sister societies to display black mourning ribbons on their flags for three days.
In Jesi, Frezzi's birthplace, a demonstration with march was held on May 16th, attended by over a thousand participants, which started at 6.30 pm from the arco Clementino, marched along via del Corso (currently corso Matteotti), and arrived in Frederick II square to lay a wreath in memory of Frezzi at the foot of the plaque dedicated to Giordano Bruno.
On May 23rd,
1897 at Campo de Fiori a demonstration
was held, announced in the morning,
although it had been decided on the evening of 19th.
In the square Matteo Renato Imbriani
Poerio, Ettore Socci, Andrea Costa and the worker Marzoli
delivered a speech, then a long march (according to Corriere
della Sera one hundred thousand people attended, according
to Avanti! ten thousand) with the flags of the 35 member
associations, crossed via dei Giubbonari, piazza Cairoli, via
Arenula, via delle Botteghe Oscure, piazza San Marco, Colonna
Traiana, via Alessandrina, via Cavour, via Principe Amedeo, piazza
Guglielmo Pepe and via Tiburtina and reached Campo Verano cemetery.
At the head of the march the band of Porta Pia district played
the anthem of Garibaldi and the anthem of Mameli. A large deployment
of carabinieri on horseback and on foot, as well as many police
officers had been set up in front of the cemetery. Andrea Costa
was allowed to give a brief speech inviting calm and non-violence,
and only a delegation formed by city councilors Nissolino, Bianchi
and Lizzani bearing the wreaths was allowed to enter the cemetery,
while the demonstrators and the police remained outside.
Many people carried Frezzi's photos on their hat-bands. Assunta Frezzi carried the flag ofAnita Garibaldi group and many women gave her solidarity.
The photographer Francesco Fiorani in Guglielmo Pepe square exhibited a large photo of Frezzi, at the passage of the march, which welcomed it with great applause. The same photographer sold the pictures of Frezzi at 50 cents each for the benefit of the widow. Even the PSI (Italian Socialist Party) section of Via Prina sold the portrait of Frezzi at 10 cents, at the end of 1897 the proceeds of 500 liras were handed over to the widow. A fundraising by Avanti! for Assunta Frezzi collected 322.65 liras, delivered in May.
It is said that queen Margherita had screamed and banged her fists because the demonstration had been allowed, and it seems that even the king, who was at Monza for his holiday at the Villa Reale, had been furious because the procession had not been forbidden. In several other cities demonstrations were held to demand justice for Romeo Frezzi, but were often banned by local police authorities. Vivaldo Lacchini on «LAgitazione» of Ancona attacked the apostles of the inviolability of life ready to mourn the fate of a king but not of an obscure and honest worker" (Bellofiore).
Another large demonstration of 15,000 people against Frezzi's "moral and material" murderers took place in Rome on August 22nd, starting from Campo de Fiori and marching through the streets of the city. In the Parliament, the representatives of the extreme left demanded clearness on the case, but the head of government Antonio Starrabba, marquis of Rudinì, blocked every investigation to prevent it from becoming the spark for a new insurrectional wave.
The journal Risveglio socialista-anarchico ("Anarchist and Socialist Awakening") of August 17th, 1901 about the alleged accomplices of Gaetano Bresci, wrote: After all, they must be glad that their innocence has been recognized. With the atmosphere of servility that infects Italy, they could have been frezzed before or after the trial to wring possible confessions out of them (Ortalli). The name of Romeo Frezzi thus became a verb, synonymous with deadly torture in prison.
Again Avanti! in May 1903 launched a campaign to do justice to another prisoner murdered in his cell, the sailor Giacomo DAngelo, passed away on May 5th in Regina Coeli jail (see my page on him). Avanti! used the title "Il nuovo caso Frezzi" (The new case Frezzi), and when the prison doctor, Pietro Ponzi, in an interview to Il Messaggero, hypothesized a decease «by brain congestion» the socialist newspaper commented with sarcasm: «the aneurysm of Frezzi!», and expressed the fear that the culprit's impunity was used to warrant an indemnity «for more violence and more frezzations» (Da Passano).
trial to the murderers
On May 15th, 1897 the Carabinieri police arrested sub-sergeant Domenico Mellace and guards Romolo Omut and Antonio Mazzaglia, and on May 21st jailer Giovanni Campana was detained. The Rome police commissioner Ernesto Martelli was put under investigation and transferred to Florence, with the motivation of a normal turnover, but in reality for negligence also for the case of the scarce vigilance in occasion of the attack of Acciarito (Felisatti; Fasanella et al.). Cavalier Vittorio Minozzi replaced him. A fourth and fifth guard, DAvanzo and Bonfiglioli, were also arrested, all five guards were removed from the ranks and then expelled from the Corps, while delegate Forcheim remained in his place (Felisatti).
The investigating judge Francesco Bocelli, initially inclined to support the suicide thesis, and the deputy public prosecutor of the king, adv. Giuseppe Bozzi, took care of the investigation on the murder of Romeo Frezzi in a rigorous way, while the attorney general of the Court of Appeal, commendator Eugenio Forni, a former police commissioner, and then coming from the ranks of the police, insistently tried to get news on the investigations by the two magistrates, and in particular from their superior, the Chief Prosecutor of the King cavalier Domenico Giordani, and he was therefore openly accused by Avanti! of wanting to make them know to the suspects under investigation, in order to thwart the accusations, while Forni's opposition to the second expertise was known.
On the case Frezzi four investigations were opened: the judicial one by Bocelli and Bozzi, an administrative one of the Ministry of the Interior, directed by the head of division Talpo, that of the General Directorate of prisons, by commendator Beltrami Scalia, who had assumed San Michele jail under his direction, withdrawing it from police headquarters control, and finally that of commendator Barilli, head of division of police personnel. After a few days Talpo and Beltrami Scalia inquiries were closed, confirming the suicide (Felisatti). The quick end of Talpo inquiry, which didn't find any result, was commented ironically by the left-wing press, also playing upon the name of the inquirer (in Italian "talpa" stands for "mole").
On May 31st, a collection was launched in the Police sections to raise funds for the defense of the guards under investigation, urgently promoted by the commander of the city guards Giovanni Gallo, who was then suspended by the service for this initiative. On June 4th the prefect of Rome, count Adeodato Bonasi resigned, a deed that was considered linked to police abuses, as in the Frezzi case. On June 8th the head of the government Di Rudinì confirmed to the Parliament that he had sent to the prefects a circular-telegram with which, on the occasion of the summons to appear issued by the investigating judge Bocelli to police commissioner Martelli, he declared to assume the political responsibility of the arbitrary arrests which followed the Acciarito attack, including that of Frezzi.
On August 3rd, the Court of Rome acquitted the guard Domenico DAvanzo due to lack of evidence while committed for trial: guards Bonfiglioli, Omut, Campana, Mazzaglia and sub-sergeant Domenico Mellace for wilful murder (article 378 criminal code); delegate Filippo Forcheim for aiding and abetting (article 225 criminal code) and former police commissioner Ernesto Martelli for abusive search and deprivation of personal freedom (articles 158 and 147 criminal code).
On August 15th, 1897, Minister Costa died and this led to a suspension of the trial. At the resumption the statement of charges was entrusted to the deputy prosecutor Scipione De Lollis, who had already proved himself by acting as a manipulator of the process for the Banca Romana, a clear indication of the will to cover up, as well as the assignment of the audit of the expert's report to De Pedys, who he managed to get back into the game.
Il Messaggero of May 22nd, 1898 reports that in the Court of Appeal, Attorney General commendator Totaro asked non suit for police commissioner Ernesto Martelli and delegate Filippo Forcheim, the following sessions were postponed, perhaps due to disputes within the court, advisers Giusto Ponticaccia, Sebastiano Caprino and Pietro Peroni. On May 28th, 1898 the sentence was issued: for Martelli and Forcheim acquittal for "non-existence of crime", and the guards for "lack of evidence", while they were removed from the ranks. In Corriere della Sera the news occupied only one line: The Prosecution Section acquitted all the defendants of the Frezzi trial.
trials to Acciarito and his "accomplices"
On 28th and 29th May 1897, in Rome, at the Court of Assizes at the Oratory of the Filippini, in piazza della Chiesa Nuova, a few meters from the shop where Romeo Frezzi had worked, the trial to Pietro Acciarito took place, at the end of a very brief judicial inquiry, of only 18 days (Felisatti). The accusation was supported by Attorney General Eugenio Forni, the same one who tried to interfere in the investigation into the death of Romeo Frezzi. The President of the Court, Commendator Liuzzi, in a final summary of the trial that seemed to be a indictment of the prosecution, expressed a brilliant theory on the reasons for the attempted regicide: "What was the purpose of Acciarito with regicide? To get rich. We know that a regicide is often followed by a revolution and the troubled elements find something to fish". After only three minutes in the council chamber, the defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment. In the Cassation trial, Acciarito was defended by the socialist lawyer, anarchist in the past, Francesco Saverio Merlino, who in 1900 became the defending counsel of Gaetano Bresci. The sentence to life imprisonment was confirmed, and Acciarito at first served in the penitentiary on Santo Stefano island (see my webpage), but the harsh conditions of detention destroyed his psychic equilibrium, and in 1904 he was transferred to the Montelupo Fiorentino hospital for the criminally insane where he died in 1943 and where in 1910 had passed away Giovanni Passannante, who had performed the 1878 attack to Umberto (Feldbauer).
Cavalier Alessandro Doria, director of the judicial prison of Regina Coeli, and later heavily involved in the murder of Gaetano Bresci at Santo Stefano penitentiary, carried out an inquiry in 1897 into the existence of a conspiracy to kill Umberto I which included Acciarito. In a trial in 1908 Doria boasted that he had a role in opening a trial to the accomplices of Acciarito in 1897 (Santoloni and Marcucci).
The trial against the other alleged accomplices of Acciarito, however, ended on November 4th, 1897, the prosecution section issued a "non suit for all the defendants for lack and insufficiency of evidence". They were the anarchists Ettore Sottovia, Umberto Farina and Eolo Varagnoli, as well as Pietro Colabona, Cherubino Trenta, Aristide Ceccarelli, Ernesto Diotallevi and Federico Gudino, these latter five were all framed by a loathsome sham set by the investigators. The Santo Stefano penitentiary manager, Alfredo Angelelli, availing himself of an infiltrate, a certain Petito, placed in the same cell of Acciarito, convinced him that his fiancée Pasqua Venaruba had had a child with him and was in serious financial straits, and then persuaded him to present a petition for mercy to the king, extending it to the five unaware comrades. In this way, a petition for mercy presented by a convict was unduly used as an accusation of complicity for five more, who consequently found themselves under investigation. Once in the hearing, Acciarito learnt, even from Pasqua Venaruba, that there was no child and that the extorted petition for mercy had got his comrades into trouble.
Still on June 29th, 1898 Rudinì entrusted the general director of prisons Martino Beltrami Scalia with the task of establishing a "service" in the penitentiary of Santo Stefano to obtain revelations from Acciarito on the details and characteristics of a possible conspiracy.
On June 23rd, 1899, in the Court of Assizes a new trial for the alleged accomplices of Acciarito begun: Gudino, Diotallevi, Ceccarelli, Colabona and Trenta, that, after a suspension of several months, ended in front of the court of Teramo on April 5th, 1900 with the full acquittal of the defendants and with their immediate release from prison.
A few years after Frezzi's death, the socialist activist Luigi Fabbri founded a club named after him in Recanati, while the Socialist Electoral Club "Romeo Frezzi" of Potenza, in the Souther Italy, was dissolved with pretexts on January 9th, 1898, causing also a parliamentary question to the ministers of Interior of socialist member of parliament Leonida Bissolati; moreover in Ravenna an anarchist group named "Gruppo Romeo Frezzi" was established (Dell'Erba). On the occasion of the commemoration of Sante Caserio, the Milanese anarchist guillotined in France on August 16th, 1894 for killing the French president Marie François Sadi Carnot, on August 18th, 1897 the anarchists laid a wreath on the tomb of Romeo Frezzi with the inscription: "A group of anarchists to Sante Caserio", and a note bearing these words: "Today falls the anniversary of the inexorable sentence with which on August 16th, 1894 Sante Caserio was condemned. Hail to the fallen, hail to Sante Caserio who young, bold and full of life, left his head on the guillotine crying out: «Long Live Anarchy». The fruitful example facilitated the mass rebellion to all the oppressed of the world. Long live the social revolution, long live anarchy".
More recently Jesi, his hometown dedicated a street to him.
Even the film critic and screenwriter Tullio Kezich (1928-2009), in his theatrical work W Bresci: storia italiana in due tempi ("Hooray for Bresci: Italian history in two acts"), of 1971 recalls Romeo Frezzi and his end, comparing it implicitly to the dead of Giuseppe Pinelli.
The Frezzi case helped reopen a case of alleged suicide in prison two years earlier, not adequately followed by the press of the time. In 1897, in the wake of indignation over the death of Romeo Frezzi, Avanti! recovered information on the death of Costantino Quaglieri (see my webpage on him), a twenty-two-year-old worker killed on February 12th, 1895 in Regina Coeli jail of Rome. At the time, Avanti! had not yet been founded and the pres had believed the police headquarters version was true, although Quaglieri's mother insisted on casting doubts on the causes of death.
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